News: Beach Voters get to Vote on Marijuana Issues in November

Miami Beach voters will get the chance to vote on decriminalizing marijuana this fall, making it the first city in South Florida to reduce the penalty for pot to a $100 fine instead of criminal charges.

Sensible Florida (Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy), a group which works to legalize cannabis, collected more than double the number of signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot; normally, doubling the required number all-but-ensures that enough valid names were present to qualify.

The group presented the 9,000 signatures to Miami Beach City Hall and at a special City Commission meeting on Friday the commissioners passed a unanimous resolution to put a straw ballot question in the November 5th special election regarding medical marijuana.

The item on the ballot would ask voters whether Miami Beach should urge the Florida legislature and the federal government to decriminalize and authorize the use of medical marijuana. The resolution is non-binding; no city laws would change no matter how the public votes, but it would test public opinion on how the residents of Miami Beach feel about the use of medical marijuana.

“It’s a great day for the marijuana legalization movement in Florida,” said the group’s Chairman Ford Banister. “For the first time, Florida voters will soon decide a marijuana related question.”

Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman, the director and producer of Cocaine Cowboys and Square Grouper – a film about the South Florida marijuana trade in the 1970s and ’80s — has contributed thousands of dollars and publically backed the efforts of Sensible Florida.

Spellman said the vote will be a chance for Miami Beach residents to decide if they want to stop pursuing a “failed war on drugs.”

“Is it in the public interest to arrest, detain and process somebody in the system for small amounts of marijuana?” asked Spellman. “Is that what we want cops, prosecutors and investigators to be focusing on?”

This is not the first go round for Banister and his group. in 2011, they collected signatures to ask beach commissioners to put an issue on a November ballot that would have ordered the city to instruct police not to enforce some state marijuana laws. That ballot initiative was thrown out because according to Miami Beach City Attorney Jose Smith, based on legal precedent, the city doesn’t have authority over state law regarding marijuana.

The group had intended to hold a Victory Rally at Miami Beach City Hall last Wednesday during the commission’s regularly scheduled meeting, but the referendum was moved to Friday because of a packed schedule mostly dealing with historic homes and the Miami Beach Convention Center Developer choice.

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